6.2.08 Baby's 3rd Week


Though I've moved on, into a world of proud, incredulous, overwhelmed parenthood, I have to start here by saying that the birth was not in line with what I wanted, and no matter how many people point out the result—a wonderful, healthy baby—I still think that the reality of this life-altering experience should be honored, not tucked away. I promise that in future posts I'll get to baby Leo, his smirks, grimaces, the breastfeeding challenges, the arc of urine that hit the kitchen table at his second bath, the hallucinogenic night feedings, and the all-consuming, joyous challenge of helping our newborn son to thrive and grow before our eyes. But I want to share my birth story first.

I had my bags packed for the city's only in-hospital Birthing Center, where I could basically have a facsimile of a home birth, plus a big Jacuzzi, and a Labor & Delivery floor seconds away if anything went awry. It seemed like the perfect way to give birth without pain medication, without having to lie in a bed, without feeling like a patient surrounded by experts convinced they were necessary because I couldn't push out a baby on my own. We hired a doula named Kenzie, we had snacks and drinks ready to bring with us, we took a yoga class designed to help couples use breathing and support positions during labor, and I felt confident, if clueless.

My OB told me about the possibility of being "risked out" of the Birthing Center, but the pregnancy had been healthy and low-risk, so I wasn't too interested in following that train of thought. I did test positive for Group Beta Strep (GBS) however, and the doctor explained that as soon as my water broke I would require intravenous antibiotics every four hours. If I wasn't in active labor, I could go home between injections, but they'd want to induce after 12 hours. And an induction would risk me out of the Birthing Center. I understood the scenario and couldn't think of a way to prepare for it, so I just hoped for the best.

No such luck.

On Mother's Day, we went to my brother-in-law's, and he and Aaron installed our car seat.

"Now I can have the baby," I joked.

We got home, made whole wheat spaghetti with mushrooms and peppers, and, as I sat down at the table, my water broke! I ran for a towel, then we stared at each other in calm excitement, waiting a few breaths to see if there'd be some instant change. Nope. I had to go in for the antibiotics, so I began trying to get dressed. I wasn't fitting in much then, just a pair of jeans, really, which seemed not quite right for a nighttime trip to the hospital to give birth. I settled on sweatpants that barely fit, lamenting that every big event in my life is preceded by the impossible question of what to wear.

"Don't be offended but I think I'm going to need this spaghetti," Aaron said apologetically as he sat down to his lukewarm dinner while I rifled through my wardrobe.

We drove to the hospital. The doctor on call from my OB's practice explained that I'd be in triage on the Labor & Delivery floor, and that they'd do 20 minutes of fetal heartrate and contraction monitoring, but that then I could go home, since I was obviously not in active labor. It was strange, being told I'd need to go into active labor, since I had no idea what that would be like.

"You won't be able to talk," the doctor said.

At home, we tried to catch an hour or two of sleep. When the alarm rang it was brutal, dragging ourselves and all our stuff back out to the car. We drove through the sleeping city, somehow shooting right into Times Square, which was empty. At the hospital the drill was the same: antibiotics and monitoring, still not in active labor. A young male resident came in, put on gloves, and explained he was going to do a vaginal exam to see how dilated I was. I'd heard that due to the risk of infection, it's best not to do these unnecessarily after a woman's water has broken, so I told the resident I wanted to talk to my doctor first. She came in and nixed the exam, pointing out that I could still talk through contractions (didn't even feel them, honestly!). A lesson in not going along with whatever someone in scrubs tells you. Ask to talk to your doctor first.

We were sent home knowing that we had one more 4-hour period before things would change. Another restless nap, then I showered, we made a smoothie, and picked up Kenzie. At the hospital, back in triage for monitoring and antibiotics, the OB broke the news: she was going to put me in a room on the Labor & Delivery floor since I was still not in labor, so the Birthing Center was out. And to move things along, she planned to insert Cervidil, a cervical ripener. It could stay in for 12 hours, at which point she would want to induce labor if necessary. For some women, she said, Cervidil initiates active labor.

For the first 2 hours on Cervidil, I'd be confined to the bed so the fetus could be monitored to be sure he was handling things ok. Strapped down, on my back, with a medical intervention—it was my worst case scenario and I cried. It was raining outside. We listened to quiet music, Kenzie knitted, and Aaron held my hand. Before long, I felt strong, regular cramp-like contractions. I hated being on the bed and was very eager to know how much of the 2 hours had elapsed (not much). Then I threw up, which I'd read is often a turning point, and suddenly I found myself in some serious labor—no more talking during contractions, and it seemed like no time between them.

The labor felt way too intense, not right, and I insisted on seeing the OB. She came, discovered I'd gone from 1 to 8 centimeters dilated in an hour and took out the Cervidil with raised eyebrows—apparently I'm one of those women who responds to Cervidil quite dramatically. I begged to be allowed off the bed but since the contractions had become so intense, she was concerned about the fetus. I bargained, and finally was allowed to stand next to the bed wearing the monitors. Kenzie raised the bed so I could lean on it, and I breathed a flutter-lipped breath through every contraction, holding my pillow over my head and squatting, leaning on the bed. Aaron and Kenzie were at my side, occasionally telling me I was doing great.

Labor didn't feel like something I was doing, it felt like it was happening to me. I barely had time to think, but at one point I did begin to wonder how I was going to stand much more of this, and still be strong enough to push when the time came. I looked up at Kenzie and said "I have doubts." "You have your ritual [meaning the breathing and squatting], just keep doing what you're doing," she said. So I did. I remembered hearing stories of women who got epidurals right before they were ready to push, and finding they slowed labor down. I wasn't interested. I also thought of a C-section, imagined the relief and dismay I'd have if this labor ended that way.

As I began to feel a strong feeling of pressure, the room filled with people and I was forced back onto the bed on my back. A male attending doctor came in pulling on latex gloves and announced that my OB was delivering another baby and he would deliver mine. I just shook my head no on the pillow, I didn't feel like a participant in the process, I could barely think, and I didn't fully understand that it was time to push. Then my OB walked in and the other doctor faded away.

My doctor coached me to push and Aaron and Kenzie were at my ears encouraging me, but somehow I still didn't understand what I was doing, and I had the idea I wasn't doing it right and it wasn't working. Someone told me to reach down and feel the baby's head, but it felt so soft and wet I simply didn't believe it was a baby. The burning feeling as the whole head emerged felt a little more real, and as I pushed a final few times I felt his shoulders slip out. Slimy and blue, and clearly too large to have ever been inside me, our son was like an apparition, suddenly appeared on my chest. The nurse rubbed him pink, he opened his eyes, and Aaron and I looked at each other. Leo Henry. Our son.

In place of a recipe, I thought I'd list a few of the foods that people brought/made for us after the birth. These struck the perfect balance between nourishing, comforting, and easy to deal with:

• Fruit salad—this might be the top pick for those first few days postpartum. In fact, I'd like to nominate watermelon as the official fruit of breastfeeding.

• Homemade pizza loaded with veggies and baked in our oven, with lots of leftovers to reheat, or scarf cold.

• Washed salad in containers, ready to dress and eat.

• Prepared veggies to reheat or toss into salads.

• A big steak ready to broil for a few minutes.

• Sushi platters—this is what my parents brought us the first night in the hospital, and it was so festive and delicious.